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November 30, 2011

The myth that General Eisenhower ordered German civilians to visit Buchenwald

The famous story of how General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered German civilians to march five miles up the hill from Weimar to see the Buchenwald concentration camp has been told many times.  But is this story really true?  Not according to General George S. Patton, who was there that day.

German civilians were ordered to see dead bodies at Buchenwald concentration camp

The famous photo above and the photo below were taken by Life magazine photographer Margaret Bourke-White on April 15, 1945 as a procession of German civilians from the city of Weimar were forced to visit the Buchenwald concentration camp. According to The Buchenwald Report, written by the prisoners at Buchenwald, Bourke-White had just arrived that day, along with General Patton.

Weimar residents were forced to look at bodies of  dead prisoners at Buchenwald concentration camp

General George S. Patton wrote in his autobiography that he visited the Buchenwald concentration camp for the first time on April 15, 1945.  He wrote that he did not make a special trip to see the camp.  Patton had visited the Ohrdruf sub-camp of Buchenwald on April 12, 1945, along with General Omar Bradley and General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Patton threw up when he smelled the 40 dead bodies in a shed at Ohrdruf. He refused to go inside the shed, but General Eisenhower famously said (regarding his visit to Ohrdruf):

I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that “the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda”

General Eisenhower wrote in his autobiography that he only visited one camp and that was the camp near Gotha, which would be Ohrdruf.

After General Patton’s visit to Ohrdruf, he flew to Weimar to visit what he thought was going to be his next Command Post. Patton wrote in his autobiography that his visit to the main Buchenwald camp was only a side jaunt, suggested by General Walton Walker, the man who ordered the Weimar residents to march 5 miles to the Buchenwald camp.

Was General Patton lying when he wrote that it was General Walton Walker who ordered German civilians to visit Ohrdruf and then ordered civilians in Weimar to visit the main Buchenwald camp?  Why does everyone give Eisenhower credit for ordering German civilians to visit Buchenwald?  Is it because Eisenhower made no secret of his hatred for the German people?

There are photos of Eisenhower at Ohrdruf, but no photos of him at Buchenwald because he was never there and he did not give the order for civilians to visit Buchenwald.

On April 15, 1945, the day that he visited Buchenwald, General George S. Patton wrote the following in a letter to General Dwight D. Eisenhower:

We have found at a place four miles north of WEIMAR a similar camp, only much worse. The normal population was 25,000, and they died at the rate of about a hundred a day. The burning arrangements, according to General Gay and Colonel Codman who visited it yesterday, were far superior to those they had at OHRDRUF.

I told the press to go up there and see it, and then write as much about it as they could. I also called General Bradley last night and suggested that you send selected individuals from the upper strata of the press to look at it, so that you can build another page of the necessary evidence as to the brutality of the Germans.

This letter to General Eisenhower was written by General Patton on the day that he saw Buchenwald at the suggestion of General Walker.  It was General Walton Walker who ordered the civilians of the town of Ohrdruf and the city of Weimar to see the Buchenwald camps, not Eisenhower; he had better things to do.  Yet every day you can read somewhere on the Internet that it was Eisenhower who ordered the local Germans to see the camps.

For example, this quote which you can read in full here:

He (Ben-Gurion) would on many occasions recall (as Barack Obama did in his speech at Buchenwald in 2009) how Eisenhower had forced the local Germans to visit the liberated camps and see for themselves the piles of corpses and the skeletal survivors. In his speech Obama quoted Eisenhower as saying at the time that he was concerned that humanity would forget what had been done in these places, and he was determined to never let that happen. Ben-Gurion was hugely impressed and moved by this act of Eisenhower’s, both for its humanitarian quality and for its historic significance.

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